For the Love of the Game: Chronicles of an Unrepentant Football Fan

Opinion

“Brethren & Sisthren! I have a testimony!” The English Premier League (no longer Barclays) ’16/17 season kicked off recently to fever pitch expectation and general wide acclaim. Yipee! “Everyone is addicted to something”  – The Huffington Post. Take away my budding conspiracy theory of scripted in-match sequences and the fear of possible defeat to newly promoted…

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“Brethren & Sisthren! I have a testimony!”

The English Premier League (no longer Barclays) ’16/17 season kicked off recently to fever pitch expectation and general wide acclaim. Yipee!

“Everyone is addicted to something”  – The Huffington Post.

Take away my budding conspiracy theory of scripted in-match sequences and the fear of possible defeat to newly promoted Hull City and football qualifies as the lowkey, unrecognized opium of the 21st century masses.

Disclaimer: Forgive my constant referral to the Premier League. It is, afterall, the best league around.

The popular saying goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”. However, unlike the seeming fad in the experience of most acclaimed substance abusers, I do not recall my first contact with the beautiful game.

My earliest memory is of Man Utd with a bold SHARP emblazoned across their chests with Peter Schmeichel Snr. performing heroics in goal and over-the-top Beckham hype. Then Arsenal in JVC: Seaman, Pires and Ljunberg come to mind. How I became a Chelsea fan? I loved the colour blue and how white socks looked on white cleats and this team gave it to me week in, week out. I’ve never looked back. My loyalty astonishes even me today.

Before the intricacies of steady followership of live football, I indulged in what I call “branches”. Like a tree, football is an institution with branches: these are fields not normally related to it but benefit immensely from their association. This article is about my experience on the various branches of this tree as I climbed with child-like glee.

First off, if you know not about Sega soccer cartridges, we are not mates! From USA ’94 to World Championship, the experience was LIT!!!

How won’t “World Soccer! Winning Eleven 8!” have given you goose bumps?!

If this was the arduous process of officially getting a bride, Sega was just introduction. I discovered PlayStation in an attempt to “market” my Sega talent at a game center near my house. Imagine my shock when instead of Left-Left-A/B sequences, I found more realistic graphics, gameplay and Box-Ex-Box coupled with L1-R1 dexterity. That game center enjoyed my pocket money ehn. I never gambled though: Home training prevailed.

When there was neither electricity nor money, myself and other children in the neighborhood engaged in our own gladiator games; mixing sweat, dirt, hysterical calls and various imitations of our favorite players skills and goal celebrations.

The result: body pain, headache, broken toes, the proverbial “shipomo” (injury involving a bruise on the skin underneath the toenails) and an overwhelming sense of pride and fulfillment.

Driven indoors by continuous rebuffal and scolding, we discovered TableSoccer.

Not this:

This:

It would be unfair not to recognize the efforts of boredom and NEPAs war on the masses back in the day in the achievement of this commendable feat.

Whether you played Button, Paper or Bottle cap (popularly known as cantas) version, whether match box or battery was your goal keeper, whether you made paper goalposts or cube sugar box was your improvisation, you got the real deal! This wasn’t iPhone versus Android debate.

We grew older, were told; “Todays readers, Tomorows Leaders” and as a result found SupaStrikas.

P.S: M.I Abaga’s Undisputed Champion playing in the background

Ghen Ghen

Your team has nothing on these guys! Whether you’re for Messi, Ronaldo or totally misguided with tales of Pogba’s greatness, they have nothing, I repeat, nothing on Segun “Shegs/Shakes” Okoro!

This team was seriously slept on. They neither went 12 years as slaves like Arsenal nor changed managers like Chelsea whilst never having a bad or trophyless season. They played matches on mountains, against robots etc. Their skills were what dreams were made of; not of this world. All this achieved without a recognized complete eleven.

I was so enthralled, myself and a group of friends started drawing our own soccer comics, fabricating player names and creating a league. I sold one of my fictional players: Saint Louis (Yes. Inspired by the sugar) for 500 Naira cash! The said sugar wasn’t even 500 Naira then. That was cool money made!

Managing my comic book was like my retirement from active playing. I was now engrossed in “administrative duties”. Then, I found Football Manager (FM). Oh, the joy!!!

If Sega was introduction, FM was honey moon in the Carribean Islands.

Yes, they are just spots playing but if playing actively gives you the sense of the fight for victory, imagine what truly being in control of the possible outcome of the fight brings.

I used to joke to my friends “I am god in FM land”. Whether by tactical genius, shrewd business or reloading matches, the outcome of battle rested solely on my shoulders. I could do and undo.

The fact that FM measures players addiction level and we still play says it all. So many classes die via stabbing with FM guilty as charged.

Recently, Twitter banter is rife, Fantasy Football is a thing and betting stats are through the roof. Oh, the humor we get from football twitter thanks to Arsene Wenger. My timeline is my personal sitcom, my daily Night Of A Thousand Laughs. I haven’t tried fantasy football though. My MB is precious to me. As for betting, home training still prevails. Besides I’m not Octopus Paul. The chances of losing far outweigh the possibility of winning in my opinion. To those that participate, may the odds ever be in your favor.

For the females and extreme minority of not-so-keen males, I just outlined the trend your son is 99.5% going to follow. In his time, virtual games and ideas that we can’t fathom yet will exist. Don’t discourage him. His love for the game is wired into his DNA. Men relish victory and the fight it takes to get there. We’re innate gladiators. Conquest resonates in our soul. Let him express.

At every stage of his growth, football has something to offer beyond watching the games and being a staunch supporter. There are lawyers unearthed in the place of “Messi is better than Ronaldo” debate, never give up mentality fostered by sticking with your team through losses and not-so-ideal management.

Harness these experiences to teach him vital life lessons.

My father ended my dreams of becoming the next Papilo with the quote “For every football star, thousands failed. Focus on a more stable profession” but then isn’t this the case with every profession or career path? There’s always the possibility of failure in the face of extreme competition.

My advice: “If he really wants to play, let him play”.

Let him dare to dream.

Ensure an education and encourage creative entrepreneurial venture. You might end up beaming with joy if his talent delivers.

Ask Cristiano Ronaldo’s family.

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